REPEAT: Australian court clears Indian surgeon of manslaughter

SYDNEY (AFP) - An Indian-born surgeon at the centre of a long-running malpractice saga in Australia was Wednesday cleared in a retrial of the manslaughter of an elderly patient who died after he operated on him.

Dr Jayant Patel was jailed for seven years in July 2010 after a jury found him guilty of criminal negligence resulting in the deaths of three patients.

But Australia's High Court quashed the manslaughter convictions in August last year, saying there had been a miscarriage of justice and ordered retrials, and the surgeon was released on bail.

Dr Patel reportedly wiped away tears as he was found not guilty in Brisbane's Supreme Court Wednesday at the first of the retrials, relating to the death of 75-year-old Mervyn Morris.

Prosecutors had alleged Dr Patel, 62, was negligent in recommending and performing bowel surgery on Mr Morris, who died three weeks after he was operated on at Queensland's Bundaberg Base Hospital in 2003.

The defence argued the decision to operate was reasonable on medical grounds and there was not enough evidence to prove Dr Patel caused Mr Morris's death.

In his closing address, defence barrister Ken Fleming told the jury Dr Patel did not have the luxury of hindsight when he decided to operate, and he did so in the honest and reasonable belief it was necessary.

"He was making decisions as a very busy surgeon in a busy hospital where he had numerous patients," Mr Fleming said, according to a report in Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper.

Outside the court, Mr Fleming said justice had been served.

"Dr Patel is very happy with the result but he can't talk to people yet because obviously there are other issues to be resolved," Mr Fleming said.

Dr Patel has two outstanding manslaughter charges against him relating to other operations carried out at the Bundaberg hospital between 2003 and 2004.

Despite the acquittal, the other trials may still proceed.